Saturday, April 12, 2014

From Visionary to the Fringe

Immanuel Velikovsky’s strange quest for a scientific theory of everything

Paula Findlen, March 26, 2014

Friday, April 11, 2014


I met a Traveler from an antique land, 

Who said, "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone 

Stand in the desart. Near them, on the sand, 

Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown, 

And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, 

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read, 

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed: 

And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings." 

Look on my works ye Mighty, and despair! 

No thing beside remains. Round the decay 

Of that Colossal Wreck, boundless and bare, 

The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1818

Mona Lisa Effect

Georgia Sagri, Mona Lisa Effect, Kunsthalle Basel, Basel (solo), 13 April - 8 June 2014

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Tout n'est pas fleur

Tout n'est pas fleur, 2013. Raw clay,pottery, wire, concrete, acrylic

Crimea, Mon Amour

As a teenager I felt particularly blessed with my skinny arms. I liked to imagine myself walking along the streets of Feodosia, just like Marina Tsvetaeva does in one of her many Crimean poems, “alone, without a thought, with two skinny arms hanging by each side.” I’d recite these lines and my arms would appear so strange in their swaying uselessness, two swan necks hanging head-down.
I went to Crimea only once, ten years ago, with two boys from school, neither for the sun nor to trace my mother’s steps (“When I was your age,” she liked to say many years ago, “I’d fly to Crimea every weekend.”). We went so that we could, after Mandelshtam, after honey and tea, “walk out into a brown garden, the eyelash-curtains lowered on the windows, and go along white columns to look at the ripening grapes.” Russian Crimean poetry could be easily reenacted, rewalked, reseen, retouched. Its land has been romanticized and sentimentalized, the Black Sea drowned in the sea of poetry written on its shores. Crimea is a place where geopolitics meets geopoetics. Starting with Alexander Pushkin’s Black Sea sojourn in 1820 and culminating with a silver mine of Russian Silver Age, Maximilian Voloshin’s Koktebel dacha, which received about 600 artist-guests per year, Crimea has been a place where Russian poets came to be initiated into poetry, to write, to love, to fight death with better climate, and to die.
Sightseeing: here is Crimean landscape eroticized and orientalized by Pushkin, here is the hair Crimean authorities tore out of their own heads when they were worried that Lev Tolstoy was going to die there, here is Anton Chekhov’s lady with her lapdog, here is a cemetery where Tsvetaeva French-kissed Mandelshtam (Mandelshtam: since then, every landscape reminds me of those hills), here is Andrei Bely’s lost shoelace, here’s where he met his young admirer Vladimir Nabokov, here is the sea that Mayakovsky in a yellow sweater compared to a blue blouse, the same Mayakovsky who called Crimean literary critics wether-heads, here is a little shop where Joseph Brodsky bought postcards he sent from Yalta to his Russian ballerina.
For three Belarusian teenagers Ukrainian Crimea was a neutral territory where we could meet our Russian literary step-parents. There, all of us were neither locals nor tourists, but vacationers, getawayers. We were after white houses with white columns, surrounded by vineyards and cypresses sweating with its tangy distinct aroma, after black horses grazing on endless hills against the blue horizon. We stayed just outside of Sudak, in a ten dollars a night shack, without windows, but in the morning, cracks in the door let in blades of sun slicing through the room—it was like sleeping in a magician’s black box. On the street corner a woman sold peaches and I went to buy them straight from sleep. Their skins were like ice—strong, cracking, bursting with juice once broken. In the evenings, the seventh century fortress standing on fossilized coral reefs, our backs to its walls, we drank wines with thirty percent sugar in them. Their names: Black Doctor Massandra, Ancient Nectar, The Seventh Sky of Prince Golitsyn, Livadia. We balanced out the sugar with the salt from the Black Sea.
A few years later I would change course and start reading Belarusian poetry, but the white houses by the sea would catch me by surprise again. The first Belarusian modernist poet, that is the first Belarusian city poet rather than a peasant-poet, interested in a place of a human being in the universe rather than his place in the ideological national myth, Maxim Bahdanovich died in Yalta at the age of 25, leaving by his deathbed this note:
In a country of light, where I’m dying
in a white house by a blue bay,
I’m not sad, I have a book
from the Marcin Kukhta press.
I’m going to make a leap now, from this sudden yet quiet death to the Soviet mass purging that started in the Crimea that same year, in 1917. Maximilian Voloshin, genius loci, whose dacha in Koktebel would become the happiest memory of Russia’s best poets, wrote this poem on April 21, 1921 with the same matter-of-fact diction Anna Swirszczynska would later use to write about the siege of Warsaw:

Worked nights. Read
informers’ reports, personal files.
In a hurry signed sentences.
Sighed. Drank wine.
In the morning gave soldiers vodka.
In the evening, by candlelight
called the roll, men and women.
Herded them into a dark courtyard.
Took off their shoes, underwear, clothing.
Bundled it.
Loaded them into carts. Sent off.
Shared watches and rings.
In the night huddled them barefoot, naked,
over ice-cold stones,
in the north-west wind
into the waste land.
Huddled with clubs to the edge of a cliff.
Lit with a flashlight.
For half a minute machine-guns worked.
Finished up with bayonets.
Dumped the barely dead into a hole.
Buried in a hurry.
Then with a sweeping Russian song
returned to the city.
Before dawn, staggered to the same hills
wives, mothers, dogs.
Dug the ground. Fought for the bones.
Kissed dear flesh.

Posted in From Poetry Magazine on Monday, March 31st, 2014 byValzhyna Mort

Pignon de maison des hommes

Pignon de maison des hommes, Korogo.Vallee du Sepik. Papouasie-Nouvelle-Guinee.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The staple crops in El Cerrito

El Cerrito, San Miguel County, New Mexico. The staple crops in El Cerrito are corn, beans and alfalfa, 1941.

The Future Lies Behind Us

AD Gallery opens the double solo show of the sculptor Kostis Velonis and the photographer Nikos Markou entitled The Future Lies Behind Us on Wednesday, April 9 at 20:00.
In a previous show presented at the gallery entitled Art in the Time of Collapse we attempted to explore how the period that preceded the collapse of economy and politics, the period when the tendency for the deconstruction of the social tissue became definite, was impressed in the artistic oeuvre. We also tried to get a feeling of the sort of images that the previous decade gave birth to and the way the latter was portrayed on them.

Firstly, it should be noted that the collapse caused the renewal of the visual vocabulary towards two directions; that of the counter-culture and that of the modernistic continuity. The difference of the second direction as opposed to the first lies primarily in the highlighting of the victim of the Central Conflict, of the defeated version of History as a carrier of hope for the renewal of institutions and culture. It lies also in the aversion to the narrative’s directness and in any relationship with the illustration and printed image, in the aversion to humor and challenge as a commenting value, in psychedelic approaches and in popular forms as a benchmark. In this direction the artists are not drawn away from History of Art as a basic reference framework.

In this exhibition entitled The Future Lies Behind Us we deal with this second direction. It consists of two parallel solo shows that enter into dialogue, that of the sculptor Kostis Velonis and that of the photographer Nikos Markou.

Both artists contemplate on the social reality and seek to highlight the need to restate the universal narrative in order for the Present to be connected with History. The individualism, both as a theory and as a practice, that disdains highlighting the basic characteristics of social structures and makes the narration itself resemble as quicksand, has no part in their work.

Three sculptures by Velonis are presented in the show; Model for the Prospect of Shipwreck, Tout n’est pas Fleur, Who Might Build? The first is an assemblage of objets trouvés in which a ship’s hull that is turned upside down raises a faded flag, which in a “glorious” past could have been red. From the stern of the ship pops up an improvised wooden fish rod that embodies any hope of continuity and survival. The work Who Might Build? consists of a four-meter ramp. From its wooden surface tens of used hammers emerge, which support the ramp and make it a meeting point and a space of equal dialogue. This dialogue evolves between simple working people in the absence of any kind of leader. This is, perhaps, the visualization of Public Space, the space in which collective processes are being implemented, proposals are being filed and collective actions emerge. 
Markou presents a video entitled “Life Narratives” which consists of articulated stories. In these, everyday people narrate signs of life in a non-dramatic way. A video still of an economic immigrant’s family is presented on a gallery wall.

The most common form of self-knowledge, the knowledge of oneself through the observation of the other, holds a prominent position in the photographer’s work. Balzac’s declaration that “the depiction of life must be done scientifically in order to arrive at a comprehensive presentation and interpretation of social reality” seems to characterize his work.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Tribune Leading to the Ramp and Ramp Leading to the Tribune

Tribune Leading to the Ramp and Ramp Leading to the Tribune, 2014.Wood,acrylic,poster
207x58x 53cm

From the catalogue “Nasze Pory Roku ; Na dolnoslaskiej ziemi” ( the Four Seasons) by Michal Sewerski. Zaklad Narodowy IM. Ossolinskich Wydawnictwo, 1970. (photo:T. Drankowski)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Your Country Needs You

Maybe one time standing behind a podium

you heard voices and realized they were

what your own mouth just said and quickly
you grew accustomed to giving orders.

Or maybe standing there you said nothing
at all and the next thing you knew

some night shift nurse of the invisibly
wounded was monitoring your fitful dreams.

Like everyone, I’ll watch indefinitely
the meant-to-be lovers stay
a lip’s width apart
or a war zone, their shadows overlapping

like animals around a dried-up watering hole.
I keep expecting someone prettier when I look

in the mirror.See how we shatter then
reassemble as I turn away back into the day.

Lisa Olstein, 2014

Sunday, March 9, 2014

No Country for Young Men

Zissis Kotionis, A.D.A.P.T. (Apparatus for Defence Against Police Terror), 2013. Wood, polypropylene, sound installation, 300 x 200 x 360 cm. Courtesy of the artist.
This exhibition brings together work by 30 leading contemporary Greek artists whose work addresses the impact of the economic crisis on their country. Their work transcends the everyday coverage of political and economic developments and offers an insightful look at what is going on in Greece today. The focus, however, is not only restricted to the negative effects: the exhibition also looks at the opportunities the crisis offers for a reinvention of the country.

On the last Thursday of every month (27 March, 24 April, 29 May, and 26 June), between 6 pm and 9 pm, visitors to the exhibition can benefit from the presence of a trilingual (French, Dutch, and English) guide, who will invite you to enter into a dialogue with a view to helping you understand the works better.

Participating artists: Loukia Alavanou / Manolis Anastasakos & Alexandros Vasmoulakis / Bill Balaskas / Depression Era / Eirene Efstathiou / Stelios Faitakis / Marina Gioti / Alexandros Georgiou / Philippe Grammaticopoulos / Guerrilla Optimists / Michalis G. Kallimopoulos / Dionisis Kavallieratos / Panos Kokkinias / Alkis Konstantinidis / Zissis Kotionis / Marinos Koutsomichalis, Afroditi Psarra & Maria Varela / Nicolas Kozakis & Raoul Vaneigem / Nikos Navridis / Angelos Papadimitriou / Maria Papadimitriou / Antonis Pittas / Poka-Yio / Stefania Strouza / Lina Theodorou / Panos Tsagaris / Kostas Tsolis / Dimitris Tsoumplekas / Chrisa Valsamaki / Kostis Velonis / Eirini Vourloumis / Zafos Xagoraris / Yorgos Zois

Curator: Katerina Gregos

BOZAR and the Atelier Bouwmeester are also welcoming a satellite project by Depression Era, a collective of photographers, artists, researchers, writers, architects, journalists and curators formed in 2012, recording the Greek crisis through images and texts. The Depression Era project exhibition takes place at the Atelier Bouwmeester, just across the street from BOZAR in 54-59 Galerie Ravenstein, and will be the first international presentation of the collective outside Greece.
No Country for Young Men: Contemporary Greek Art in Times of Crisis

Not Easy to Build

Not Easy to Build, 2014. Wood, acrylic, clay, 39 x 8 x 48 cm.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

«Δεν τράβηξε κανένας γείτονας το κουρτινάκι να δει τι γίνεται»

Αύριο θα είναι μια δύσκολη ημέρα για την Εσθήρ Κοέν. Θα συναντηθεί με τον πρόεδρο της Γερμανίας Γιόακιμ Γκάουκ και κάθε άλλο παρά για ευχάριστα θέματα θα συζητήσουν. Η ενενηντάχρονη Στέλλα στα ελληνικά, Κοέν, είναι μία από τους δύο εν ζωή Εβραίους των Ιωαννίνων, από τους πενήντα περίπου που επέζησαν του Ολοκαυτώματος και επέστρεψαν από το Αουσβιτς. Και ο Γερμανός πρόεδρος ζήτησε να τη δει.

Είναι άραγε ψυχολογικά έτοιμη αυτή η γυναίκα, να ανασύρει από την ομίχλη της λήθης (;) τον εφιάλτη; «Αισθάνομαι περίεργα. Είμαι ταραγμένη. Θέλω να τον ρωτήσω, πού βρέθηκε τόσο μίσος, για να κάψουν ζωντανούς εκατομμύρια ανθρώπους, επειδή έτυχε να έχουν διαφορετική θρησκεία;

Πρέπει άραγε να δεχθώ τη συγγνώμη; Τίποτα δεν μπορεί να συγχωρέσει αυτό που μας έκαναν. Δεν απέμεινε συγγενής να με συνοδέψει όταν θα πεθάνω. Δεν άφησαν κανέναν, τους έκαψαν όλους», λέει.

Η αφήγησή της είναι γροθιά στο στομάχι. Ο λόγος της φαρμάκι, όχι μόνο για τους ναζί, αλλά και για τους συντοπίτες της χριστιανούς: «Οταν μας έβγαζαν από τα σπίτια μας και μας έσερναν στους δρόμους για να μας πάνε στην Γερμανία, δεν τράβηξε κανένας γείτονας ούτε το κουρτινάκι για να δει τι γίνεται…», σημειώνει.

Ξημερώματα 25ης Μαρτίου του 1944. Με μια καλά σχεδιασμένη επιχείρηση και με τη βοήθεια της ελληνικής χωροφυλακής, η Γκεστάπο «σκουπίζει» την εβραϊκή γειτονιά των Ιωαννίνων. Στοιβάζει σε φορτηγά, 1.725 άντρες, γυναίκες και παιδιά.

Ελάχιστοι πρόλαβαν και διέφυγαν στο βουνό, όπου εντάχθηκαν στις ανταρτικές ομάδες, μεταξύ αυτών και ο μετέπειτα σύζυγος της Εσθήρ.

Οι υπόλοιποι, μαζί και οι γονείς της δεκαεφτάχρονης τότε Εσθήρ και τα έξι αδέρφια της, πήραν τον δρόμο δίχως επιστροφή, με προορισμό το Αουσβιτς. Από το κρεματόριο θα επιστρέψουν λιγότεροι από πενήντα.

«Είδα τελευταία φορά τους γονείς μου στη ράμπα στο Αουσβιτς, όπου μας χώρισαν. Θυμάμαι ότι καθώς απομακρύνονταν στην καρότσα ενός φορτηγού, φώναξε σε εμένα και την αδερφή μου: "Κορίτσια να διαφυλάξετε την τιμή σας". Μία μέρα που μας κούρευε μια αιχμάλωτη, με ρώτησε τι απέγιναν οι γονείς μου. Της απάντησα πως δεν γνωρίζω και εκείνη μου είπε δείχνοντας τις φλόγες που έβγαιναν από τα κρεματόρια: να, εκεί καίγονται...».

Η Εσθήρ θα γλιτώσει από καθαρή τύχη, καθώς μια εβραϊκής καταγωγής Γερμανίδα γιατρός και κάποιες νοσηλεύτριες την έκρυψαν στο αναρρωτήριο όταν οι Ες Ες πήραν όλους τους υπόλοιπους από τον θάλαμό της και τους οδήγησαν στους φούρνους.

Θα επιστρέψει μετά την απελευθέρωση και στο οικογενειακό προσκλητήριο θα δηλώσει παρούσα μόνη η αδερφή της! Οι άλλοι, είχαν εξοντωθεί όλοι.

Φτάνοντας στα Γιάννενα θα πάει κατευθείαν στο σπίτι της και εκεί θα δεχθεί το άλλο φοβερό χτύπημα. Αυτή τη φορά όχι από τους ναζί ή τον capo του Αουσβιτς.

«Χτύπησα την πόρτα και άνοιξε ένας άγνωστος. "Τι θέλετε", με ρώτησε; "Εδώ είναι το σπίτι μου", του είπα. "Θυμάσαι αν είχε φούρνο το σπίτι;", είπε. "Ναι, βέβαια ψήναμε το ψωμί και ωραίες πίτες", συνέχισα όλο χαρά. "Ε, λοιπόν, εξαφανίσου. Γλίτωσες από τους φούρνους στη Γερμανία, θα σε ψήσω εδώ στον φούρνο του σπιτιού σου", άκουσα με φρίκη να μου λέει».

Δεν μας αγάπησε κανένας

Η Εσθήρ θα προσπαθήσει να φτιάξει τη ζωή της. Παντρεύτηκε τον Σαμουήλ, που κατέβηκε από το βουνό. Στη συνέχεια θα αρχίσει να αναζητάει τα κειμήλια και τα χρήσιμα εργαλεία για να επιβιώσει. «Εμαθα ότι τις δύο Singer ραπτομηχανές τις είχε πάρει ο μητροπολίτης. Πήγα και τις ζήτησα πίσω, αλλά μου είπαν ότι τις έδωσαν στη νομαρχία. Εκεί μου ζητούσαν τους αριθμούς πλαισίου των μηχανών μήπως και τις βρουν. Προφάσεις για να με ξεφορτωθούν.

Σήκωσα το μπράτσο μου και τους έδειξα το ανεξίτηλο νούμερο από το Αουσβιτς. "Να, αυτόν τον αριθμό θυμάμαι εγώ", τους είπα και έφυγα...».

Κατάφερε να ορθοποδήσει σε ένα περιβάλλον όχι ιδιαίτερα φιλικό. «Μια μέρα στα τέλη της δεκαετίας του ‘60, ένας καθηγητής θεολογίας στο γυμνάσιο αποκάλεσε "παλιοεβραία" την κόρη μου, επειδή τη συνάντησε στον δρόμο μαζί μου, περασμένες εννιά το βράδυ, κάτι που απαγορευόταν. Δεν άντεξε την προσβολή. Με το που τελείωσε η χρονιά, έφυγε στο Ισραήλ. Εκτοτε δεν επέστρεψε».

«Σιωπήσατε πολλά χρόνια, γιατί;», την ρωτάω.

«Γιατί φοβόμασταν. Δεν μας αγάπησε κανένας, το καταλαβαίνετε αυτό;», λέει δακρύζοντας.
Σταύρος Τζίμας

Tout feu Tout flamme

Pottery, at least as far as its purely physical composition is concerned, is of the stuff of many of the West’s religious and cultural founding myths. For thousands of years, intelligence and beauty have found form and taken shape in this melding together of earth and fire. After all, in the book of Genesis, isn’t it earth that constitutes the source code for the entire human race? Wasn’t it on the sixth day of Creation that God gathered up the dust in His hand and made man after His own image?
When we turn to the world of poetry and literature, it is of course Prometheus who is seen as the originator of the art of pottery. In order to give form to clay, you may not have to be a Titan, but you certainly need something of the Seer.
Those who stick with it turn into, in Rimbaud’s words, a thief of fire. What’s more, Prometheus, (whose name means Foresight), created mankind from bits of mud that he turned into rock, before nabbing knowledge and learning from the great ones of Olympia. So, we’re all just fire and dust. Artists who master these elements are equally dedicated to
contributing to the work in progress that is humanity. They task themselves with the job of bringing into the world forms and concepts that were hitherto lacking. The first fire-based art form, indeed, perhaps the first art form full stop, is the process by which creation gives ever-growing life to creation.
This is how we can best understand Tout feu Tout flamme - art that is about the very spirit of exhilaration that has its being in art itself, with artistic convention being smoked out and destroyed, no matter where it tries to hide. First into the flames are desires, wings and eyes. Here, raw art is a dish best eaten cooked. Hereby, the young artists, who as makers of ceramics share a common bond, take their place in a pseudo-mythological story, each having their own reasons for doing so. Their ceramic artworks, regardless of their exact composition, have seemingly just emerged from the primeval earth. The very fact of bringing them into the open, into the light, might seem enough to seal their fate – to be turned into museum pieces - at least as a protection against their supposed fragility. This, however, is where we would be wrong: to choose pottery is to accept the scorched earth school of art, to agree to a degree of violence or force in the midst of finesse.” Alexis Jakubowicz
Lefebvre & Fils Gallery is pleased to present Tout feu Tout flamme, an unseen group show of eleven international artists around ceramic works.
Florian Bézu, Ryan Blackwell, Robin Cameron, Patricia Camet,
Dewar & Gicquel, Mimosa Echard, David Gallagher, Chloé Jarry, Morgane Tschiember and Kostis Velonis, gathered by the curator Alexis Jakubowicz, prove ceramic’s relevance and persistence in contemporary art
March 19-May 31, 2014

Wandering Jew

François Georgin, Le Juif-Errant (Image d'Épinal), Stencil-colored woodcut, Perhinderion I (1896),Spencer Museum of Art.


El próximo domingo 16 de marzo, a las 13:00 hs, Función Lenguaje invita a sus amigos a un encuentro con la Grecia actual. Cuna de la civilización occidental y hoy devastada socialmente por la crisis, Grecia se presenta como un hervidero, aún invisible para nosotros, de voces y corrientes artísticas que, sin olvidar las raíces homéricas, reivindican y navegan, al modo de Ulises,  en busca de una sociedad mejor. 

Poesía, video arte y performance confluirán en esta cita a la que se unirán poetas españoles. Pero también la gastronomía será protagonista del encuentro: sentados a la mesa, se servirá una cabra como símbolo ancestral de la colonización en las islas (hoy de nuevo de actualidad), se degustarán otros manjares griegos y se libarán aguardientes autóctonos.
Artistas:Angela Dimitrakaki, Escritora e historiadora del arte, Phoebe Giannisi, Arquitecta, poeta y artista visual, Iris Lykourioti, Arquitecta y profesora, Eva Stefani, Politóloga, directora de cine y videoartista, Kostis Velonis Artista visual, comisario y experto en estudios culturales, María Castrejón, Filóloga y poeta.
En Función Lenguaje (c/Doctor Fourquet, 18 -Lavapiés-)
Domingo 16 de marzo. 13:00 hs

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

To continue. Notes towards a Sculpture Cycle.
First chapter: Matter

To continue. Notes towards a Sculpture Cycle is a research-based project inspired by a core group of works from the Nomas Foundation collection, which focuses on sculpture, organised in three chapters, each dedicated to a specific aspect of the medium. Through itineraries around the city, a public programme of lectures in collaboration with Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna, visits to artists studios and specific collections, To continue. Notes towards a Sculpture Cycle aims to build a dialogue between the present and the past, between the Foundation and the narrative texture of the city.

Matter, the first episode of To continue. Notes towards a Sculpture Cycle, is inspired by the famous series of lectures held by Rudolf Wittkower at Cambridge University in 1970-71. The aim of these lectures, was to examine works on the basis of the working methods used by the artists, while also seeking out lines of continuity and rupture throughout the history of art, from the Archaic period to the present day. In a similar manner, this first episode looks at how works are made, and how their material presence determines their appearance and the way they are perceived. The solid and the void, to carve or to shape, are still the constituent elements of sculpture today – whether the artist works with traditional materials or whether he inscribes the form within a space, or even when giving shape to data, images and sounds that constitute a new and potential matter. 
(to continue)

Curated by Cecilia Canziani and Ilaria Gianni, 
assistant curators Michela Tornielli and Stefano Vittorini

Giorgio Andreotta Calò, Rossella Biscotti, Chiara Camoni, William Cobbing, Michael Dean, Luisa Gardini, Helena Hladilová, Oliver Laric, Else Leirvik, Nicola Pecoraro, Diego Perrone, Timur Si-Qin, Jesse Wine.

On the occasion of the opening a rare documentary dedicated to the Italian sculptor Medardo Rosso, realised for the RAI in 1959 by Alberto Martini, historian and art critic, will be shown.

Opening Tuesday February 26, 2014 6.30 pm
Nomas Foundation,
Viale Somalia, 33 - Roma

February 26 to April 5 | Matter
April 17 - May 27 | Vision
June 5 - July 25 | Scale

To continue. Notes towards a Sculpture Cycle continues Nomas Foundation’s ongoing investigation on visual art’s languages, following A Theatre Cycle, 2013; A Painting Cycle, 2012; A Film Cycle, 2011; A Performance Cycle, 2010. 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Spider Hatchlings

 In many spider species the female encloses her eggs in a kind of pouch which she spins round them to provide support.Federica Colombo, Les animaux en société, 1979.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Portable Shadow

Portable Shadow, 2014.
Wood, acrylic, clay
75 x 27 x 8 cm.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

A Necessary Incompleteness

Anse-à-Pitres, Haiti, 2012.
Late one afternoon, I was walking with a local friend in the small border town of Anse-à-Pitres, Haiti, when we reached what looked like an impromptu public square. “You see the mosaic promenade?” my friend said. “And the benches over there? We know every great city has a public square, so we decided to build one here.” In the center I saw a concrete column with rebar protruding from the top, surrounded by a spiral concrete wall. 

“And all great public squares have a monument with a statue, right?” he said. I demurred, but he continued: “Everyone in town can agree about that. But whenever we discuss which historical figure should go up on that column, it turns into a fight. We can’t come to a consensus. So we’ve decided to leave it empty. One day, this person will come. And when they do, we will have a place waiting for their statue. This will bring great pride to Anse-à-Pitres.”
Thiotte, Haiti, 2012

You find examples of this typology all around the world: buildings and structures that are activated or inhabited even though their construction is not complete. [1] For the past several years, I’ve been collecting photographs, video and anecdotes of cases in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Mexico, the United States, Jordan, Israel, Palestine and Turkey. Instead of attempting to explain these approaches to construction or indulging in obvious generalizations, this investigation asks: How can we read these objects in a different way? This is not a study of the “creativity of the poor” or an attempt to improve design practice; my research is motivated by an impulse to produce understandings for which we may not have immediate use.
South Quito, Ecuador, 2012

Some months after I left Haiti, I was presenting my research at the International Academy of Art Palestine, in Ramallah. An artist from the older generation, whose work had given visual expression to the concept of sumud — or "perseverance" — offered a thoughtful response: “You are going to meet people who will tell you that this form of architecture is about optimism for the future. But I can tell you that in Palestine, for me, this cannot be the case. When I see rebar coming from the roofs of the buildings, I see a violent fear of the future. A fear that comes from not knowing what is being passed down from one generation to the next. Previously, we had the olive fields, and there was a rootedness to the land. But what was once a communitarian, horizontal mentality is now individualistic and vertical. No matter how hard people work, no matter how far they extend their efforts, they just go higher and higher, never touching, never making contact with those around them.”
Wadi Rum, Jordan, 2012

People often tell me the reason buildings are left unfinished is so that the occupants can avoid paying property taxes. They come rushing up after talks, excited to report that they know the answer. Perplexed that such a tax loophole could exist in a range of markedly different cultural and climatic contexts, I asked an urbanist friend in Italy what he thought. “It’s an urban legend,” he said — one that is informed and propelled by implicit racism. He pointed out that in Italy this approach to construction is almost entirely confined to the South, where a larger proportion of the population is from a migrant background. “The myth generalizes a group of people who those in power would like us to see as selfish and opportunistic.” 

Last spring, I found myself in Delhi, talking with a group of young architecture students whose professors urged them to move beyond discursive dichotomies — formal/informal, legal/illegal — and to navigate by other means. We tunneled through several thought-provoking detours until one student lost patience and interjected, “When does all this nebulous talking end? When are we going to do something about this?” 

There was silence in the room. After a long moment, one of the professors spoke. “Where is this fear of endlessness coming from? What might we learn when we avoid that urge to do something, and just allow the building to remain endless?


Author’s Note 

Research for The Exhibition of a Necessary Incompleteness was supported by a grant from the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts

Images, video and text from this body of work were included this past fall in an exhibition at the University Art Gallery at the University of California, San Diego. This essay and slideshow are not a summary of that research but, rather, a point of entry.


1. This is variously referred to as vertical phasing, perpetual construction, or incomplete architecture.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

On the Limitations of Behavioral Finance

Behavioral finance has exploded in popularity not just because it’s interesting—regular finance is interesting, too—but because it combines that interest factor with an abundance of what one scholar called “descriptive charm.”
There is something strangely entertaining in reading about the economic foibles of others: one part schadenfreude,  plus one part abashed recognition of one’s own past mistakes—mixed with quiet relief to find oneself  with lots of company in making those mistakes.
Plus, it gives many of us readers great stories that to tell at dinner parties. Being able to talk about the myth of the “hot hand” in basketball, or investor preferences for cash versus stock dividends, can make for a pretty entertaining evening in some circles.
Reading behavioral finance can also provides a sense of Finally Understanding How Things Work when it comes to money and markets. Learning about common cognitive errors in economic decision making, such as “anchoring,” and “availability bias,” feels like getting a peek inside the flawed machines that are our brains, making it seem possible to predict the behavior (particularly the mistakes) of others, and guard against them in oneself. In short, behavioral finance seems to offer insight and a sense of control, imposing order on what otherwise appears chaotic and unpredictable.
But a dozen years after my own personal infatuation with behavioral finance began—by devouringRichard Thaler‘s classics, Advances in Behavioral Finance and The Winner’s Curse—a number of limitations have become obvious.
All research programs have limitations, of course. But those of behavioral finance undermine its purpose: that is, to enhance understanding of financial markets and investor behavior. Others have written eloquently on this subject, particularly Daniel Beunza and David Stark, and John Y. Campbell. What I have to add to this ongoing debate boils down to two points and their consequences:
    1. Failure to acknowledge the findings of the allied social sciences
    One of the cardinal laws in scholarship is to acknowledge the work of others and avoid reinventing the wheel. But when you read works of behavioral finance, you’d never know that deviations from rational, self-maximizing behavior are old news in psychology, political science, sociology and anthropology. Check the references section of a behavioral finance article or book and see how many citations from those fields you can find. Chances are, there will be zero. Behavioral finance scholars generally cite each other, or work from mainstream economics and finance.
    This is particularly strange since so much of contemporary behavioral finance depends on the contributions of social psychologists like Daniel Kahneman (a 2002 Nobel laureate for his work in behavioral finance) and the late Amos Tversky, as well as much older work by people like Herb Simon, who was a Professor of Political Science and Industrial Administration at various points in his career. Simon won the Nobel Prize in economics for work done half a century ago on “bounded rationality“—a concept closely tied to many of the key phenomena examined by behavioral finance, but which is virtually ignored in their publications.
    While a lot of academic research speaks to a rather small group of other academics, behavioral finance is distinctive within the social sciences for restricting its scholarly conversation so tightly. This isn’t the case in the closely-related disciplines of economic sociology, neo-institutionalist political science, and economic anthropology, all of which regularly cite and engage with one another, to the enrichment of all.
    In the case of behavioral finance, reluctance to acknowledge the many research interests it shares with the allied social sciences may be part of the larger project of rigid separation and boundary enforcement that has been carried out by economists since the time of Pareto. This has created what Schumpeter described as a regime of “mutual vituperation”which has kept economics and finance in a state of self-imposed incommunicado with sociology, limiting the advancement of knowledge on our shared interests. Behavioral finance, it seems, is sticking to the party line on this point.
    2. A narrow, limited critique of economic theory
    Cataloging the many ways humans fail to think rationally about money, investments and risk is a good start. But in most ways, behavioral finance leaves intact the problematic assumptions of traditional finance, pulling its punches, so to speak. Among the most noteworthy examples:
    a. Behavioral finance remains stuck at the individual level of analysis 
    As in traditional finance and economics, the object of inquiry in behavioral finance is the individual—despite rafts of evidence going back decades that individuals don’t make decisions about money, risk or investing in a vacuum, but as a result of social influences. Of course, this evidence comes from those allied social sciences that are being so studiously ignored. For example, economic psychologist George Katona showed 35 years ago that most people choose investments based on word of mouth recommendations from their friends and neighbors. This influence of social forces in economic decision-making has been demonstrated with equal or greater impact among finance professionals—for instance, in a study of Wall Street pension fund managers by economic anthropologists O’Barr and Conley, and more recently in a sociological study of arbitrage traders by Beunza and Stark.
    In the past, there were encouraging signs that behavioral finance might break through the limitations imposed by sticking to the individual level of analysis, most strikingly in Robert Shiller’s 1993 statement that “Investing in speculative assets is a social activity.” But thus far, the implications of such statements, and the plethora of evidence supporting them, remain unexplored.
    b. Behavioral finance limits itself to pointing out failures of cognition and calculationAs important as those factors are in distorting financial decision-making, there are a host of others that we know about—based on research in those allied social sciences that behavioral finance doesn’t acknowledge—that are excluded from research in behavioral finance. This includes emotions, and social phenomena like status competition, both of which play a significant role in the findings of economic sociology, psychology and anthropology. The cognitive/calculative failures may interact with the socio-emotional phenomena, but we won’t know as long as behavioral finance pretends the latter don’t exist. That’s a loss for all of us interested in markets, money and investing.
    c. Behavioral finance doesn’t explain how individual acts and decisions produce aggregate outcomesAs a consequence of keeping the analytical focus on individuals—avoiding the social and interactive aspects of economic activity—behavioral finance doesn’t have the theoretical means to address mechanisms through which individual acts and decisions aggregate. That means it can’t explain institutions and other manifestations of collective behavior which form the context for all the individual behavior it examines. Of course behavioral finance can’t answer all questions about money and markets, but it ought to be able to explain what happens when hundreds, or hundreds of millions, of people fall prey to the “hot hand” fallacy or availability bias? If behavioral finance won’t touch questions like that, who will?
The consequences for ignoring the other social sciences and mounting a very narrow critique of traditional finance and economics, include:
  • Limited predictive power
    Behavioral finance tells us more about what people won’t do (e.g., behave according to notions of rationality outlined in economic theory) than what they will do.
  • Contradictory implications
    Are investors risk-averse or overconfident? How should we reconcile seemingly contradictory findings like these? Behavioral finance doesn’t tell us, because of its…
  • Failure to offer a viable alternative to the theories it challenges
    Pointing out all the ways that real life behavior doesn’t bear out the predictions of traditional economics and finance is interesting—even fascinating, at times—but it’s not an alternative theory. “People aren’t rational” isn’t a theory: it’s an empirical observation. An alternative theory would need to offer an explanation, including causal processes, underlying mechanisms and testable propositions.
All this keeps behavioral finance dependent on traditional economics and finance rather than allowing it to grow into a robust theoretical realm in its own right. Perhaps someday the field will develop into something more truly challenging to economic orthodoxy. Until then, behavioral finance will have to play Statler and Waldorf to the Muppet Show of mainstream finance—providing entertaining critique, but not replacing the marquee acts. (Now if economics would just substitute Milton Berle for Milton Friedman….)
by BrookeOct 31, 2010, at 03:34 pm